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Choosing - the decision-making process from a first time cruiser


GettingMyShipTogether
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In case it's helpful to anyone, here are some of the DIY  port / Denali things we came up with:

 

Ketchikan: (short stop) 

Rainbird Trail (2 hrs, easy to moderate)

"Married Man's Trail" boardwalk / waterfront promenade / Creek Street / salmon ladder

Totem Heritage Center / Potlach Park

Alaska Fish House

 

Juneau: (long stop)

Mendenhall Glacier (will decide that day east or west trail)

Mt. Roberts Tram if sunny

self-guided walking / biking tour 

Rookery Cafe, Devil's Club Brewery

 

Skagway: (long stop) 

Upper Dewey Lake / Devil's Punchbowl (~4-6 hours, moderate to difficult) and/or

Yakutania Point (1-2 hours, easy)

Pullen Creek salmon run

Ranger led walking tour (10am or 2pm), bike or kayak rental

Skagway Brewing Co., Skagway Fish Co.

 

Denali Day 1 

Drive Anchorage to Healy, stop in Talkeetna

Talkeetna Riverfront Park

Denali Viewpoint South if sunny

Denali Visitor's Center: buy passes, book Day 3 activities

 

Denali Day 2 

Mt Healy Overlook Trail

Horseshoe Lake Trail

Mountain Vista Trailhead (scenic stop)

Savage River Loop Trail or Savage Alpine Trail

Sled dog demos (10am, 2pm, 4pm)

229 Parks

 

Denali Day 3 

Ranger-led discovery hike (10 hours)

Alternates: shuttle bus to Toklat River/Eilson or wilderness tour

 

Denali Day 4

Drive back to Anchorage & fly out

Anchorage Market & Festival

Ranger led walking tour at 3.15 pm 

Anchorage Museum

Tony Knowles Coastal Trail

Spenard Roadhouse, Moose Tooth Pub, Midnight Sun Brewing Co.

 

 

 

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  • 4 weeks later...

Well we are back...here's what we did and how it went.... great time overall and one of our most memorable vacations. 😃

 

Day 1 Embarkation

Flew into Vancouver morning of - everything went fine but would not do that again, too stressful. Easy trip from the airport to the pier on Skytrain. Walked to see the steam clock go off at noon and picked up wine & bubbly for the trip. Enjoyed watching the ship sail away from the aft balcony, we sat on our own balcony for a while watching the scenery. This was one of my husband's favorite parts of the trip, he really liked the Inside Passage views.

 

Day 2 At Sea

Sea day, not as much of the epic scenery we saw on Day 1 but still some nice views of tree topped islands and the like. The naturalist came on the loudspeakers when we passed an area known for whales, spotted a humpback, orca, and sea otters. 1st formal night, forgot about the option to make a dinner reservation and we waited at the bar about 20 min for a table. We either had a reservation or there was a minimal line every other night. 

 

Day 3 Ketchikan

Did the Rainbird Trail hike (moderate). The rainforest was beautiful, it was a soggy hike but we were prepared to get wet. Saw lots of salmon doing their run. Walked around town after ("Married Man's Trail" boardwalk / waterfront promenade / Creek Street / salmon ladder). Married Man's Trail goes up a hill to a cute hotel/lodge that has a good view of the harbor and a mini tram. 

 

Day 4 Juneau

Took the city bus to Mendenhall Glacier, did Nugget Falls (easy) and the East Glacier Trail (moderate). Took the city bus back downtown, stopped at Devils Club Brewing Co. for lunch (great beer! food was meh, there is a food truck park across the street that looked like a better option). Walked around and picked up some gifts to take home. Juneau seemed to have the "weird" city vibe like Portland, Austin, etc., - cute little town. Saw a bald eagle chilling in a tree on the way back to the ship. 

 

Day 5 Skagway 

Hiked to Upper Dewey Lake (strenuous). Our most difficult hike and the most beautiful, the lake at the top was ethereal. When we first reached it there was a dense fog but luckily it shifted around and cleared up while we were there. Stopped in at Skagway Brewing Co., the spruce tip ale was interesting and worth a try.

 

Day 6 Glacier Bay

Got up early to see the rangers board the ship but missed them, saw them leave later that day. Went to the rangers' intro talk then spent time on the various outdoor decks (mostly forward and promenade) enjoying the scenery as we sailed into Glacier Bay. It was sunny but cold outside, I bundled up with about 5 layers on top and 2 on the bottom. The rangers came on the loudspeakers when we got close to the glaciers and pointed out wildlife as well as geological features. I was surprised at how close the ship was able to get to Margerie Glacier. One of the rangers gave a talk about her personal experiences traveling in Glacier Bay, it was really great. Did an Alaskan Brewing Co. beer tasting on board which was fun, each beer was paired with nice little bites from the kitchen. 2nd formal night. 

 

Day 7 College Fjord

The morning was a sea day. Did our packing and laundry (self-serve). There were a ton of ship activities scheduled in the am to keep you busy. My husband did the cooking demo/galley tour, I did the harmonica class and screening of the glacier bay video footage. While we weren't going to buy the video, I have to say the videographers do a great job. I loved the time lapse footage they took from the front of the ship coming in and out of the various ports. The approach to College Fjord (about an hour ahead of stated arrival time) was stunning and not to be missed. We found the glaciers here to be equally if not more impressive than those in Glacier Bay. Again we were able to get closer than I'd expected. Another cold day, multiple layers top and bottom! 

 

Day 8 Disembarkation/Drive to Denali area

We self-disembarked and were off the ship immediately. Took Anchorage Tours shuttle to the airport where we picked up a rental car. Stopped to stock up on supplies and drove north. Luckily the roads were clear with little traffic. We stopped at Denali Brewing Co. (great beer! also don't have to detour all the way into Talkeetna to visit) and at the South Denali Viewpoint (got a good view with some clouds). Made it to Denali National Park late afternoon, tried to sign up for the ranger hike (full), did Horseshoe Loop which was a nice intro to Denali. Saw lots of signs of beaver activity (a lodge, a dam, chewed up trees) and one beaver swimming in the lake). We had an AirBnB cabin north of Healy which was ok, not a lot of options left by the time we were ready to book. Was nice to be staying somewhere off away from the tourist center. 

 

Day 9 Denali 

Did Mt. Healy (moderate) and the sled dog demo. Mt. Healy was a great hike, clear but hazy day with lovely mountain views from the top. Saw a marmot and some nice birds. Had dinner at 229 Parks (great meal!), had a nice beer from 49th State Brewing Co which we'd been too tired to visit the day before, we shared oysters, octopus, and steak which were all really good. The dessert looked very pretty but was just ok, I could have done without. 

 

Day 10 Denali

We'd hoped to do the ranger-led hike but that was sold out. Took the shuttle bus to Eilson instead. I'd worried that the bus ride or a tour would be tedious but the drivers and other passengers made it fun. Saw bears, caribou, moose, etc. Even if you are not on a wilderness tour, the drivers will stop whenever there is wildlife and they are really good at spotting things. We had wanted to hike at Eilson but the trails were closed due to bear activity so we stayed 30 min to enjoy the views (clear day! beautiful!) and rode back, stopping at Toklat river for an hour (offtrail, easy) and Savage River Loop trail for an hour (easy) where we saw some sheep in the mountains. 

 

Day 10 Anchorage/fly out

Left Denali mid-morning, drove to Talkeetna. Lunch at Flying Squirrel (located a bit before the town) and walked around the downtown/river view area. Drove on to Anchorage, caught the tail end of the weekly market (farmer's/craft market), went to Midnight Sun Brewing Co (great beer!) and a walk on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail before returning the car and flying out. 

 


 

 

 

 

 

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Other random thoughts:

 

- FOOD: We were prepared for something like cafeteria food on the shop but were pleasantly surprised. The food in the dining room was typically good, a few times very good, and a couple of times not great. Some of our favorite items: chocolate journeys desserts, mussels, halibut, seafood soups, banana walnut bread, king crab legs, the ernesto burger. The lobster was sadly a miss, it had a cream sauce which didn't do it any favors and the ravioli that day was oddly gritty. It was the one meal I wished I'd ordered something else. There was a locally inspired seafood dish available at least once a day. The buffet was good if you stuck to the made to order omelettes, carving station, or pastries. I didn't try the other stuff but my husband thought it was meh. We tried room service breakfast once and it was also meh. 

 

- DRINKS: Most of the people I know would lose money on a drink package. We brought a bottle of wine, a half bottle of bubbly, and purchased one additional drink on board plus a beer tasting. That plus the beer tastings we did in port worked out to be plenty for us. I would have liked to do one of the wine tastings but got caught up in other stuff. The mixed / specialty drinks looked skewed to syrupy sweet recipes so I didn't try them but the prices seemed ok. 

 

- HISTORY: With Princess being in Alaska 50 years, it would have been great if there was some kind of documentary footage about their time in Alaska, even if it was the typical corporate promotional stuff. Would have loved to see historic photos of the ships and the landscape over the years, or heard from their former captains and employees. We did see some older photos at the parks which showed how much the glaciers have receded. 

 

- TV/MOVIE PROGRAMMING: I didn't discover it until late into the cruise, but there was some locally-focused programming on the Princess channels on TV. Some travel-style shows about the various port cities and mini documentaries about Glacier Bay, Denali, etc. There was a nice one of a photographer going into to parks to capture wildlife and glaciers. Would have liked even more of this kind of stuff, or shows about the history of Alaska, its people, etc. Would also have been nice if they showed movies relevant to Alaska in the rooms or MUTS

 

-SALES PUSHING: We did get one kind of aggressive pitch on the first day but other than that, no one tried to push anything on us and it was really easy to tune out the merchandise related events, flyers, and even the stores. I did buy some souvenir items on the last day, they were marked down in the morning ahead of the announced sales so it was not too busy in the shops. 

 

-CROWDS: Maybe we were lucky due to the time of year but it never seemed too crowded on or off the ship or even at the airports. I can't speak to the layout of other ships but the abundant outdoor space on this one was a benefit especially on glacier viewing days. We waited 20 minutes for dinner on one night, 5 minutes to board at one port, and a couple of times for elevators but generally everything was super smooth. 

 

- DIY DENALI: We saw Princess / Holland America / NCL busses EVERYWHERE near Denali National Park. It was nice to get away from the feeling of being escorted everywhere and it did end up saving us some money. If the convenience isn't a necessity, I would totally DIY this part. 

 

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8 hours ago, puppycanducruise said:

Thanks for the follow up. 

I'd never fly in the day of a cruise.  Lucky it worked out for you.

Glad you enjoyed your cruise.

Depends which direction I am going / how long the flight is.

 

My upcoming Nashville to Seattle (about a 4 hr flight) - definitely at least a day early. 

 

My Nashville to Tampa earlier this year? (about a 1.5 hr flight) It felt plenty fine to fly out first thing embarkation morning, have friend pick me up, grab a bite, and then head to the ship.

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Thanks for sharing all of this! I started planning for Alaska about six years ago and we even booked and subsequently cancelled a couple of times and still have not gone. We are in Portland and the appeal of another Caribbean cruise kept pulling us back rather than spending a week in PNW weather in Alaska. But we are finally set on going and planning has gone from an easy R/T from Seattle to one way and now plan to spend a week RV-ing to see Denali and the Kenai Penninsula. We are getting close to retirement and the remaining vacation budget is limited so want to make it worth it.

 

I went through much the same process deciding about the ship with the same conclusions. Leaning toward Coral or Westerdam. We might go next year but are thinking about waiting until 2021 so that I can save up some vacation time. Fortunately for us the Vancouver/Anchorage flights are short easy non-stops which will be a nice change from San Juan which takes all day.

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12 hours ago, Emu2302 said:

Depends which direction I am going / how long the flight is.

 

My upcoming Nashville to Seattle (about a 4 hr flight) - definitely at least a day early. 

 

My Nashville to Tampa earlier this year? (about a 1.5 hr flight) It felt plenty fine to fly out first thing embarkation morning, have friend pick me up, grab a bite, and then head to the ship.

 

 

Good point. We were on the first flight out with another following an hour later but had a tight connection in Seattle which was stressing me out! Glad your flight went smoothly!

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1 hour ago, karylrocks said:

Thanks for sharing all of this! I started planning for Alaska about six years ago and we even booked and subsequently cancelled a couple of times and still have not gone. We are in Portland and the appeal of another Caribbean cruise kept pulling us back rather than spending a week in PNW weather in Alaska. But we are finally set on going and planning has gone from an easy R/T from Seattle to one way and now plan to spend a week RV-ing to see Denali and the Kenai Penninsula. We are getting close to retirement and the remaining vacation budget is limited so want to make it worth it.

 

I went through much the same process deciding about the ship with the same conclusions. Leaning toward Coral or Westerdam. We might go next year but are thinking about waiting until 2021 so that I can save up some vacation time. Fortunately for us the Vancouver/Anchorage flights are short easy non-stops which will be a nice change from San Juan which takes all day.

 

Oh, awesome! We wished we'd had time to spend in the Kenai peninsula, the glimpse we got driving up to Anchorage was beautiful. RV sounds like a great way to go, our cabin rental in Healy was overpriced for what it was imho.

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  • 1 month later...

Thanks for sharing all of your planning and decision making process. I found it very helpful, especially since I am in the very beginning stages of planning our first Alaska trip. I’ve just convinced my somewhat reluctant DH that we can, in fact, go to Alaska without him being totally frozen the whole time! 🥶😱  Now, I need to get planning before he changes his mind! 🤣😂 

 

I’m looking at the 20121 season for our trip. My first decision will be deciding when we want to go, then the cruise line, then the ship. Then the real planning fun begins!  🤩

 

This is my first venture onto the Alaska board. I can see that I’m going to find a lot of great information here.

 

@GettingMyShipTogether this thread has been a great place for me to start my own planning process! Thank you! 

Edited by perfect match
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Thank you for this. We have been researching alaska for 2 days! It is a trip 12 years in the making and out very first cruise! 

 

We decided on norwegian cuz we have kids and itinerary looked more to what we wanted. We reached out to princess, but they were so rude on the phone. I might ask a TA to look into it. 

 

I will say we have done a bit of reading on denali because some tours offered natieal history tour and others wilderness tour. From what I've read- the main way to get into Denali and see the most is the wildnetness tour because they limit the cars. We nervously opted for this trip (plan to bring loaded tablets for kids) because it is alaska and this was a must see. 🙂

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